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A genuine nationalist cannot be an imperialist. In this sense, the so-called nationalism of the nineteenth century was nothing of the sort…

Mark Malvasi’s recent essay on the rise of nationalism in the nineteenth century was a cogent and thought-provoking appraisal of the dangers of politically orchestrated mob-patriotism. It was not, however, an essay that sought to define nationalism per se, and it is dangerous to presume that nationalism is always synonymous with such mob-patriotism and the latter’s disastrous and tragic consequences. It might be good, therefore, to counter the dangers of such a presumption with a coherent definition of nationalism.

At root, nationalism is a belief in the political sovereignty of nations. Its antonym is internationalism, a belief in the absence or minimizing of the political sovereignty of nations. Beyond this basic and fundamental definition, there are different manifestations of nationalism, as there are different manifestations of internationalism. Worse, and more confusingly, some forms of so-called nationalism are really forms of internationalism in disguise. Thus, for instance, imperialism is always internationalist, even though it often wears a nationalist costume and waves nationalist flags. The British Empire was not a manifestation of nationalism, for all its pomp and circumstance and all its waving of flags; nor was the Soviet Empire, and nor, for that matter, was the Roman Empire.

Some empires are no doubt more benign than others. We might admire the Pax Romana or the Pax Britannica, in the sense that they brought good things such as economic infrastructure to far-flung corners of the Empire, but, good or bad, all such imperialism is not nationalist but internationalist. It is the imposition of the will of one dominant nation or power on smaller nations and lesser powers, the latter of whom become political subjects of the former.

In this sense, it could be argued that the sort of nationalism which Mr. Malvasi criticizes in his essay was not really nationalism at all but was, in fact, a form of imperialism. Nineteenth century “nationalism” was the consequence of the so-called “unification” of nations, which meant the imposition of the will of one powerful part of an embryonic “nation” on the other parts. Thus, the United Kingdom of Britain and Ireland was forged from the imposition of the will of England on its smaller national neighbours, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. The rise of German nationalism was the consequence of Otto von Bismarck’s Prussian imperialism, whereby Prussia forced itself upon the smaller German states and principalities. The foundation of the German Empire, as it became known, was under the rule of the Kaiser, i.e. Caesar or Emperor. In many respects, Hitler’s so-called nationalism was merely the restoration of this German imperialism. In similar fashion, Garibaldi and others established the so-called unification of Italy through the imposition of the will of the major Italian powers over their smaller neighbours. The very fact that he and his allies are known as the “fathers of the fatherland” proves that there was no Italian “fatherland” prior to their establishment of an Italian Empire. The so-called nationalism of Mussolini would not have been possible without the imperialism of the previous century. As for France, it had blossomed into an Empire under Napoleon in the wake of the secular Republic’s imposition of its imperialistic will on dissident regions of France, such as the Vendée.

As the foregoing illustrates, the so-called “nationalism” of the nineteenth century was born of imperialism, a form of internationalism in which small nations were trampled underfoot by their larger neighbours. This political process in which new “nations” were forged by force of arms, subjugating local power to the burgeoning and bludgeoning power of realpolitik, can be seen as the embryonic beginning of the rampant centralization of power which has plagued the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The same spirit that forged a united Germany on the ashes of local governments and cultures is at work in the efforts to forge a united Europe on the ashes of the European Union’s member states, consolidating political power into bigger and bigger government, further and further away from the people which it purports to represent. This process of progressive centralization of power can only be countered by a politics of decentralization.

Genuine nationalism seeks the preservation or restoration of authentic national and regional cultures, and the preservation or restoration of the strong local government necessary to defend them. It is intrinsically anti-imperialist, intrinsically local, intrinsically decentralist in its being and its raison d’être. A genuine nationalist cannot be an imperialist. In this sense, the so-called nationalism of the nineteenth century was nothing of the sort. It was of the same imperial spirit that drives all political and economic empires, including the ultimate empire of globalism which is seeking to forge a new world government on the ashes of the world’s sovereign nations. This globalist imperialism needs to be fought, and the restoration of national sovereignty is the way to fight it. This is the genuine nationalism which all lovers of liberty need to support.

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5 replies to this post
  1. It seems that when it comes to discussing terms like ‘nationalism’ and ‘patriotism,’ it is best to focus on the intended concepts than the words. Why? The dictionary gives multiple definitions for the word ‘nationalism’ and the concepts expressed by both Malvasi and Pearce seem to be represented in that list of definitions.

    But something else should be noted. Often, national border are forged by conflict and, for the sake of brevity, attempts to establish miniature empires. George Washington called America at his time an ‘infant empire.’ And what we regard America to be now was not the joining of cultures by mutual consent, but by force with the spread of one society’s culture over and against other cultures and the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans from most of the land.

    So what we say about nationalism can be driven either by observation or by the idealism of what we want nationalism to be. And we should note that some of today’s nationalism is often driving a kind of Imperialism in ways which skips over local and regional cultures.

  2. England and the Need for Nations
    by Sir Roger Scruton

    Excerpt from foreword : ” The nation state is under threat. It is being undermined by the spread
    of global corporations and supranational institutions, such as the EU and the WTO. It is also derided by many liberal intellectuals as a divisive anachronism . In this little book, Roger Scruton defends the nation state. He attacks the accretion of power by supranational organisations and explains why the liberal
    intellectuals who support this trend are wrong.” ——— . Roger Rowthorn King’s College, Cambridge

  3. Although I generally agree with Mr. Pearce, on this point I must disagree. Here he seems to be simply redefining “Nationalism” simply to mean what he wants it to mean, rather than what the word has historically meant. It seems he understands “Nationalism” to mean something almost the reverse of what it has historically meant.

    The definition that Mr. Pearce offers for Nationalism as a “belief in the political sovereignty of nations” is all well and good, but it is open to misunderstanding if you don’t put the term “nation” in proper historical context.

    In current usage the term “nation” is synonymous with “state” or “country”. This was not historically the case. Historically the term “nation” refers to a racial or ethnic group, not a political entity. Prior to the modern era national groups were almost always fragmented politically. In the ancient world this was usually played out in the concept of City States. In Greece, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Italy, each city was it’s own sovereign power. It is true that Kingdoms and Empires did often arise when one powerful city subjugated all it’s neighbors. However, the motive for this was simply dominance and power, it was not about unifying all the Egyptians, or all the Greeks, etc.

    While it is true that national groups like the Greeks would often band together and put aside the political squabbles when faced with a common enemy, the idea didn’t really occur to them that the Greeks should all form one state to unite all Greeks simply because they are Greeks.

    This principles also carries forward into the Medieval Period. While you do begin to have Kingdoms like France and England, these were not truly “national” kingdoms in the modern sense. They were rather based on the Feudal system which was still much more fragmented, and worked much more along family lines than national lines. Thus the King of England might be the sovereign of large areas of France because he inherited them from his mother. A French monarch might rule in Sicily for similar reasons.

    In these times the nation was the English, the Welsh, the Irish, the French, the Germans… but these nations were NOT politically sovereign. Rather political sovereignty rested with the Feudal Lords, which is to say it rested in the land. As a result virtually all of these Kingdoms were fragmented and decentralized.

    In the late middle ages the process of centralization began as the Kings of England and France began to solidify and consolidate their power over their vassals. This eventually leads into the birth of the concept of the “Nation-State”.

    The Nation-State is the idea that the Nations mentioned earlier, should be political sovereign states. Thus there would no longer be a sovereign Duchy of Burgundy, or a sovereign Duchy of Acquitaine, There would only be France, etc.

    This idea of the Nation-State is one of the major points that defines the transition from the Medieval Era into the Modern Era.

    The Nationalism of the 19th Century was the inevitable consequence, and you might say, the full blossoming of the concept of the Nation state that had been born in the 15th century.

    Mr. Pearce suggests that the unification of Germany and Italy point to Imperialism rather than Nationalism. He seems to try to paint Nationalism as a political realization of the principle of Subsidiarity. But virtually the opposite is the case.

    Going back to Mr. Pearce’s own definition of Nationalism “a belief in the political sovereignty of Nations”, there is no Bavarian race, nor a Westphalian Race, nor even an Austrian Race. The people who lived in Westphal, Bavaria, Wurtumberg, Austria, and Prussia were all German racially, ethnically, and culturally. Those countries were never nations. These small, fragmented duchies, kingdoms, and principalities are anathema to the concept of Nationalism because they, just as much as a foreign Emperor prevent the realization of the political sovereignty of the nation.

    In order for the Germans (the national group) to be a political sovereignty, all of these small countries must be subjugated and subordinated. This is the very definition of “Nationalism”.

    The same is true in Italy. The whole point is that the unified “Nation” can only be a political sovereignty if it has gobbled up and destroyed all of the local, sub-national, sovereigns. Mr. Pearce suggests that the quote about the “Fathers of the Fatherland” proves the imperialism of the 19th century Nationalists. Yet, who ever referred to a foreign empire as “the Fatherland?” How many Greeks referred to Rome as “the Fatherland”? or how many Indians, or Egyptians referred to England as “the Fatherland”. This is a term only used by national groups for their homeland. The whole point of nationalism is the creation of racial/ethnic sovereign
    “Fatherlands”. The basic idea of Nationalism is that for some, unknown reason, racial groups have a duty to be united under a centralized power. It is really the transference of Familial loyalty, and the love of country (here meaning the actual Land in and on which you were born and raised), away from those concrete realities, onto an impersonal abstraction.

  4. Mr. Pearce sets out to define “nationalism”, but he never even gets around to defining “nation”. Josh Cooley’s response remedies this omission – and thereby demonstrates the internal contradictions resulting from Mr. Pearce’s loose use(s) of “nationalism”.

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